There aren’t many Cheap Eats places where the waiter comes around with a pepper mill, offering freshly ground black pepper. We’re more used to grabbing a plastic pepper shaker off the counter on our way to our table.
But at Embers, the elegant restaurant inside the Ramada Inn on North Forest near John James Audubon Parkway, we got first-class treatment in a lovely dining room for reasonable prices. The secret was that we went at lunchtime.
The large dining room, which is ringed with curved, padded booths and features a tall stone chimney with a glass-enclosed gas fire, was mostly empty when John, Pat, John and I visited on a recent weekend around noon. A couple and a trio enjoyed lunch in booths, while two men, one with his wheeled bag next to him, sat next to us. Once settled in, we admired the snowy vista from the big windows and basked in the warmth from the gas fireplace.
Dinners at Embers range from $12.95 for pasta marinara with a garlic breadstick to $29.95 for the 10-ounce bone-in strip steak, with several prices in between. There are seven “small plates” of vegetable dip, potato boats, calamari and the like, from $6.50 for the garlic breadsticks to $13.95 for the firecracker shrimp.
But how smart were we, eating great food from the same kitchen for roughly half the price?
The lunch menu at Embers has plenty of selections, starting with soup ($3.75 a cup, $4.75 a bowl for chili, French onion, gumbo or the soup of the day) and salads, from $7.95 for a market greens salad to $13.95 for a Southwest steak salad. There are six delicious-sounding wraps, from tuna salad ($7.95) to bacon cheeseburger ($9.95). Sandwiches include a beef on weck ($10.95), Reuben ($10.95), grilled chicken ($8.95) and a spinach pita ($10.95); four full-size burgers ($7.95 to $9.50) are augmented by two bison sliders ($13.95). Random sides include fries ($4.75), onion rings ($5.75), wings (small order $8.25), fingers (five for $8.95), potato boats ($9.50) and chips ($4.95).
We started with a cup ($3.75) of the Louisiana-style chicken and andouille gumbo, a traditional stew packed with onions, peppers, celery, okra, white rice, chicken and spicy sausage. It was very good, nicely simmered, with balanced heat that delayed its kick to the aftertaste rather than burning. Chunks of spicy andouille sausage and chicken competed with the broth for space; the okra, one of the only foods I despise, was inoffensive.
A warm grilled vegetable wrap ($9.75) was made with zucchini, yellow squash and roasted red peppers marinated, we guessed in a balsamic vinaigrette, and then grilled. The vegetables were topped with garlic hummus and garden greens and wrapped in a spinach tortilla. The ingredients were colorful, and the preparation was excellent, with flavors melding perfectly. The non-hummus eater who ordered it enjoyed it.
The turkey bacon cheddar sandwich on a croissant, off the specials menu, was excellent. The buttery, flaky croissant, full-flavored bacon and melted cheddar played off the cool, fresh turkey perfectly.
The rustic turkey club ($10.50) wasn’t quartered and stacked the way clubs usually are, but it excelled in every way. Built on a slightly toasted ciabatta roll, the sliced roast turkey was delicious, and the accompaniments – cool Boston bibb lettuce, red tomato and crisp smoked bacon – were very good. A slather of cranberry mayo added a piquant touch.
Also looking different from what we expected was a Cobb salad, in which the ingredients are usually chopped and laid in strips on a bed of greens. This Cobb had the chicken, bacon, red onions, chopped eggs, tomatoes, cheddar and blue cheese; no avocado offered here. But they were tossed together under a generous, sliced breast of grilled chicken. This version was certainly more convenient to eat than the usual composed salad. It was also utterly delicious, from the high-quality blue cheese to the thick, crispy smoked bacon.
The sandwiches and wrap were served with a side of crisp house-made potato chips, which were dusted with a curiously good herbal blend. We spent some time guessing – rosemary? oregano? Our server said only “house mixture.” We finally decided to just call it a nice touch.
Embers at the Ramada Hotel
Where: 2402 N. Forest Road, Getzville (636-7500)
Hours: Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. and dinner from 4 to 10 p.m.
Wheelchair Access: Yes